BOSTON (CBS) – An everyday problem in the medical community is a lack of blood donations which are needed for transfusions worldwide.
Aware of this issue, scientists are working on a procedure that could “brew blood” to help combat certain blood disorders.
As a child in Jamaica, Claud D’Aguilar was diagnosed with sickle cell disease. “It’s something that’s genetic. It starts from birth so basically you’re going through this forever and ever. Amen. Until you die.”
Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to become curved and rigid, leading to severe pain.
“Hell on wheels,” explained D’Aguilar. “The most excruciating pains you could think about. Something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Anemia is another common complication and often requires multiple blood transfusions. That’s where George Murphy, PhD, a stem cell scientist at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Boston Medical Center, enters the picture.
“We like to actually work on diseases that directly impact this under-served community, one of which is sickle cell disease,” said Murphy.
He and his team are working on growing personalized blood cells in the lab that could one day help patients like D’Aguilar.
“In essence, sort of brew blood,” said Murphy.
Using a small sample of a patient’s own blood, scientists can reprogram red blood cells back into master stem cells and then coax them back into red blood cells that are unique to that patient. They can then grow the red blood cells over and over again in the lab.
“We could actually make a stem cell line from those particular patients who suffer from sickle cell disease,” says Murphy.
Such personalized blood could meet a patient’s transfusion demands and even reduce the effects of the disease. D’Aguilar said that would be a win.
“Not only for me but other people suffering,” he said. “That would be a godsend.”
The process could assist millions of people worldwide who need blood products.
“You could actually make a universal supply of blood that could be transfused into anyone,” says Murphy.
Although not ready for prime time yet, stem cell derived blood could be available for transfusions in the general population, as Murphy says, “Sooner than you think”.